Grip strength has an old-school macho aspect to it, doesn’t it? Think about two testosterone-fueled men engaging in a handshake and basically trying to crush each other’s hands. It a very primal marker of overall strength, and the sort of strength we associate with hard manual labor. The kind of strength you feel right away in a grappling match that you can’t help but be impressed with when that strength has no quit in it. Wrestle with a guy who has a crushing grip, and you’ll know the first time he gets ahold of you that you’re in for a tough match.
So what goes into having a strong grip? Are there differences between people who engage in grappling sports specifically, or is something you’re born with? A study in this month’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning analyzed the grip strength of wrestlers compared to the average person, as well as the numerous variables associated with what gives a person a strong grip.
We know grip strength is important to grapplers, like wrestlers and judoka, but what is unclear is how a coach determines if a person was born with bigger grip power. Knowing if a person was predisposed with better grip strength would be useful for coaches scouting potential athletes. In this new study researchers examined a person’s height, weight, and hand dimensions. Each had a positive correlation to grip strength. That is to say, the bigger and taller you are, the stronger your hands tend to be, whether you’re an athlete or not.
This finding should come as no surprise, as bigger people tend to be stronger in general, hence why the grappling sports are weight-classed. However, height and hand length made the biggest difference in hand strength. If I had to guess, I’d say the latter is what is really important, and those with greater height simply tended to have longer hands. This knowledge can help coaches look for grappling candidates with greater potential for hand strength before they even begin training. If someone has long hands for his or her size, he or she will likely have an advantage over opponents.
What about the average person? Does training alter hand strength whether or not we are born with the advantage of longer hands? Yes, it absolutely does. The researchers noted two substantial differences between the wrestlers and non-athletes in late adolescence and adulthood, although not in children, who exhibited similar strength across all groups. First, the wrestlers had greater peak grip strength than the control group. Second, which I found very interesting, the strength between hands was roughly even in wrestlers, where the other teens and adults demonstrated greater hand strength in their dominant hand over their non-dominant hand. These differences demonstrate grip strength can indeed be developed to a large degree through training.
For those who grapple, or who are interested in getting into combat sports, we see that not only is grip strength important, but it also has both in-born and developable aspects. Regardless of who you are, if you want to put that fear into your opponent’s eyes when you first get your grips, hand strength is one of the best places to start.
1. Vassilis Gerodimos, et. al., “Age-Related Differences in Peak Handgrip Strength Between Wrestlers and Nonathletes During the Developmental Years,” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27:3 (2013)
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.